Visiting The Historic Town of Heidelberg, Germany

*This post is part of my Euro-tour series. I’m clearing up some very old travel posts, some of which were migrated from another site. 

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Guten Tag! Germany has one of the prettiest landscapes I have seen so far, with its vibrant colours that seem fit to burst out of every leaf, its cloudless blue skies and sapphire blue rivers. Our next stop on our itinerary was the beautiful town of Heidelberg. Surrounded by rolling green hills perched with castles and overlooking the River Rhine, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place more picturesque than this.

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As we approached Heidelberg in our bus, we were greeted by the most famous landmark in the area – Heidelberg Castle – which majestically overlooks the town and the flowing waters of the Rhine. Originally built in the 13th century, the castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Although it is relatively small in comparison to some other European castles, nobles and kings once called this castle home as they stared out at their surrounding lands. In the 17th to 18th centuries, as the ruler of the area moved the court to a newer, grander castle, Heidelberg Castle fell into disarray, parts of its stone quarried for other buildings. It decayed even further during the French period, when most of Northern Europe was controlled by the Napoleonic French government, with townsfolk looting the castle for wood, stone and other materials.

Ironically, it was a French count – Charles de Graimberg – who saved the castle from falling into further disrepair, serving as its warden and living for a while in the building’s Glass Wing where he kept an eye out for looters. His work with the castle, which he commissioned for painters and writers to document (the olden-day equivalent of Instagram/ travel blog marketing, I should think) eventually drew interest from many tourists to visit Heidelberg. Even famed American writer Mark Twain wrote about the castle and its town.

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Another major landmark here is the Old Bridge (Alte Bruecke), which connects the old part of town to newer establishments. Built in the late 1700s with sandstone, it is an example of a classical stone bridge building and spans the Neckar, a tributary of the Rhine river. We alighted at the base and proceeded to the bridge for photos.

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It was my first time seeing such a deep blue river, disturbed only by occasional boats slicing through the surface like knife through butter. The sky, which was cloudless, seemed to stretch into an infinite horizon, while the banks were green and full of lush vegetation, lined with colourful, square-shaped buildings. I absolutely would not mind living here for the rest of my days, lol.

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At one end of the bridge is a large arch, signifying the entrance to the old town. Originally part of the town’s wall, the two black helmets were later added on in 1786 when the bridge was built.

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One of the most prominent statues on the bridge is a monkey holding a mirror. Records indicate that such a statue existed as early as the 15th century, but the original disappeared during the Nine Years War of the 17th century, fought between Louis XIV of France and a European coalition of the Holy Roman Empire. The current statue was only put up in 1979. You can put your head inside the monkey’s helmet-like hollow. If you rub the mirror, local legends have it that it will bring you good luck, and if you rub its fingers, it will ensure that you will return to Heidelberg someday! Next to the monkey are some bronze-cast mice, which are reported to bring fertility.

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As you walk through the archway and into the town proper, one of the first buildings to greet visitors is the Town Hall (Heidelberg Rathaus). With its many windows and flowery plants lining the edges, it looks more like a posh hotel than a town hall. The building is located within the Marketplace, which is littered with cafes and small tables and chairs for tourists, where you can grab a coffee and dine al fresco.

Heidelberg is a touristy town. During our visit, it was crowded with people from all over the world and I could hardly see any locals, except those manning the stores.

A little history – modern Heidelberg has ‘existed’ at least since the 5th century. Did you know that the Filipino freedom fighter, Joze Rizal, lived and studied here for many years? He attended the prestigious University of Heidelberg, then considered a leading university in Europe.

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We didn’t have a lot of time in town – just a couple of hours – which we spent wandering the streets and popping into whatever buildings seemed interesting. The houses are colourful and uniform, with an occasional turret or castle-like structure.

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There is a large church in the centre of town called the Church of the Holy Spirit, its turret towering over everything in town. We took some pictures outside, but since there was a crowd waiting to go in, we opted to spend more time in a smaller church that we stumbled upon in one of the alleys instead.

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The Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche) has an attractive, rosy pink facade. It was erected in the 1700s as a Catholic church and was originally built in a baroque style, although this was not preserved. All that remains of the original is a central altar painting. If you’re into history, the church houses a museum of sacred and liturgical art with objects from the 17th to 19th centuries, including treasures of gold and silverware.

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The inside is so well kept it looks brand new.

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The central altar painting.

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We only had a couple of hours to spend in Heidelberg, before it was time to bid adieu to this lovely, historic town. I touched the monkey statue’s fingers, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit again someday!

Travel tips: The nearest international airports to Heidelberg are Frankfurt and Stuttgart. From Frankfurt, trains run regularly to Heidelberg and take approximately an hour.

 

Travel Tips: Top Attractions in Paris and Best Paris Airport Transfers

Ah, Paris. The City of Light and Love. It’s a must visit on (nearly) everyone’s bucket list, and no wonder: the city has been a global hub of finance, arts, science, fashion and commerce since the 17th century. Every year, millions of tourists flock to Paris for a taste of its amazingly rich history, culture, food and architecture.

Here are some of my top Paris attractions that visitors should not miss!

DISNEYLAND PARIS / EURODISNEY 

As the only Disneyland in Europe, Disneyland Paris or EuroDisney is a major draw for tourists coming to Paris, and is one of the most visited theme parks in the region. There are two areas: one dedicated to ‘old school’ Disney with characters such as Aladdin, the classic Disney Princesses and Jungle Book, and the other to newer Disney films such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo, as well as thrilling rides like Space Mountain and the Tower of Terror. At set times, there are parades over at the central avenue featuring all the well-loved Disney friends, such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck, Goofy and the gang.

THE LOURVE 

The world’s largest art museum needs no introduction. Opened in the 18th century from a converted fortress and palace, The Lourve has been featured in countless stories, poems, songs, and in modern times, movies. Housing over 30,000 artifacts and art pieces, its most popular ‘resident’ is perhaps the lady with the mysterious smile, the Mona Lisa. The main building sports stunning old architecture, although in recent years, the glass pyramid, dubbed the Lourve Pyramid has stolen some of the limelight. Either way, the place is a must visit for photos, even if you’re not lining up for a date with Mona Lisa.

THE EIFFEL TOWER 

This iconic metal structure is now a symbol of Paris, but did you know that when the Eiffel Tower was first built as the entrance to Paris’ 1889 World’s Fair, it was criticised as an ‘ugly abomination’ by France’s leading artists and intellectuals? Today, close to 7million people ascend it every year, and it has become one of the most recognisable landmarks in the city of Paris. Standing tall at 324 metres (about 81 storeys), the tower has three platforms, with the first and second levels housing restaurants and shops.

ARC DE TRIOMPHE

Another one of Paris’ iconic architectural pieces is the Arc de Triomphe, or the Triumphal Arch of the Stars. Built in 1806, it stands at the west end of the Champs Elysees and is the world’s biggest arch, constructed at a monumental sum (for that era) of 9.3million francs. The grand monument honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Names of French victories and generals are inscribed into the arch, with six reliefs of battles, decorated with characters from Roman mythology. Underneath the arch is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. Visitors who wish to know more about its history can visit the museum, located within the arch.

TOUR DOWN THE RIVER SEINE 

Cutting through the city is the Seine, a 777km-long river that starts from northeastern France, flowing through Paris, before ending into the English Channel at Le Havre. Most of Paris’ 37 bridges span the river, including the Pont Alexandre III and Pont Neuf. The best way to get a quick glimpse of everything is via boat tours down the river, which will pass by such attractions such as Notre Dame and the Grand Palace.

HOW TO GET AROUND 

If you’re a first timer to Paris, navigating a new city can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t speak the local language. Thankfully, Paris has an intricate transportation network and various options to fit every traveler’s needs.

Upon Arrival 

There are two major airports in Paris, the largest being the Roissy-Charles De Gaulle (CDG) which serves international flights, and Orly, which serves domestic and European flights. A third airport, the Beauvais-Tille Airport, is located further away, in the Northwest of Paris, and receives travellers from European destinations. From the airports, travelers can choose to take the train, car, bus, taxi or shuttle to get around. Here are some tips on the best Paris airport transfers to and from the city:

TAXI/SHUTTLE 

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Photo Credit: Jean Pierre Gallot/Flickr 

If you’re travelling in a family with small children or seniors, a taxi or a shuttle is the best option. It’s safe and convenient, and you don’t have to worry about missing the schedule, unlike with trains or buses. It’s also hassle-free, since you won’t have to lug heavy luggage up and down stairs at the various stations.

But what if I can’t speak French and the driver can’t understand me?

Well, there’s T2 Transfer,which provides private taxi and group shuttle airport transfers to and from Paris. Their drivers are able to communicate well in English, and the service covers all three airports (namely CDG, Orly and Beauvais) to destinations such as the Paris City Centre, Eiffel Tower, Gare de Lyon and Gare du Nord train stations, as well as all Euro Disneyland hotels. Taxis are able to fit three people (additional charges for extra passengers) while the van shuttles are able to fit a maximum of 8 people. Rates are competitive, especially if you are sharing the cab/van with other family members or fellow travellers.

For a seamless experience, book your taxi or shuttle online 48 hours before arrival, and either pay online through Visa and Mastercard, or by cash to the driver once you’ve arrived at your destination safely. The team follows real-time flight changes so be rest assured that your driver will be waiting (at arrivals holding a placard with your name, so you won’t miss it!), even if your flight is delayed.

BUS

RATP Bus Route 87 in Paris, France

Credit: Moovit App /flickr 

Buses are no doubt one of the cheaper options available, suitable for those on a tight budget or young travellers, since it might involve having to carry heavy luggage on and off the buses and while waiting at bus stops. From CDG, there is the RoissyBus that runs daily from 5.45am-11pm, departing every 15-20 minutes, for €12 (one way). Meanwhile, Bus Direct offers regular bus services from Paris to Orly, as well as attractions like Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower every 15 minutes (between 5am – 11.40pm). However, due to the stops, it may take a longer time compared to a shuttle or a taxi.

For night travellers, there is a night bus service line called Noctilien (N31 & N120), which operates every 30 – 60 minutes : a little risky if you’re taking a dawn flight and you miss the bus. For peace of mind, I’d recommend just booking the taxi or shuttle from T2 Transfer since they literally pick you up from your doorstep and drop you off at the airport, and vice versa.

TRAIN 

RER Train in Paris, France

Picture credit: Moovit App/Flickr 

Another wallet-friendly option is the train. In Paris, the local trains are called RER (Réseau Express Régional), providing connectivity from the airports to the city and attractions such as Disneyland. Again, it might be difficult for families travelling with young ones or seniors due to luggage.  European travelers making connecting international flights from Orly airport to CDG may also use the train as it takes about 60 minutes at a cost of just €17.90.

 

Happy travels!